WATCHING GIDEON by Stephen Foreman


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A man heads west with his mute son in an ill-fated attempt to get lucky in both mining and love.

Foreman (Toehold, 2007) takes as his hero Gideon, a young man born with a “lazy tongue.” Unable to speak, he sticks close to his father Jubal, who readily intuits his needs and feelings. It’s the mid-’50s (Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline play in the backdrop), and Jubal hopes to make his fortune by heading from Mississippi to Utah to try his hand at uranium mining. Along the way he meets Abilene Breedlove, a good-time girl who preys on men’s ambitions with little concern for morality. So when Abilene and Jubal connect early on, it’s clear to the reader—and Gideon—that there will be trouble. Foreman works in a clean, plainspoken style, writing about the Utah landscape in a manner that evokes other Western writers such as Kent Haruf and Thomas McGuane, though he adds more lurid touches as a love triangle emerges. While Jubal and Gideon work their claim, Abilene begins a lusty affair with Jack, a wealthy landowner. Foreman isn’t subtle about the sinister goings-on here; the patch of land where Jubal drills is called the Dark Angel, and Jack’s last name is Savage. The author’s efforts to give the novel a mythic feel occasionally makes for clichéd prose: “Abilene Breedlove had bored a hole through the skull of Jubal Pickett, crept inside his brain, and searched out all his dreams.” But Foreman expertly intensifies the drama, and he gets away with the occasionally overstated passage by making Gideon a keen observer of the proceedings. As a stand-in for the reader, he seethes at the abuses and manipulations to which his father is subjected, and if Gideon’s own trial by fire in the closing pages seems unrealistic, it’s a fine setup for the satisfyingly vengeful parrying that marks the closing pages.

A provocative story that shrewdly mixes Western and gothic themes.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4391-3574-7
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2009